Last week, I did what marketers like us WANT consumers to do on social media:
I asked my friends and family for a recommendation.
In this case, I was asking folks if they’ve ever flown Spirit–and what their experience was like. I was considering flying Spirit for a family trip this summer.
The response I got was, shall we say, “less than stellar.”
I mean, just look at some of these comments. Fairly damning, and pretty much the exact opposite of what PR folks paid to build positive reputations for brands want to see.
Conclusion: Do not fly Spirit. Wait, check that: Never, ever fly Spirit. Unless you don’t mind riding with goats on an airplane and getting charged for breathing (commenters words–not mine).
How could a brand like Spirit have SUCH a negative brand reputation and still be in business? How could their PR team still be employed? I mean, we’ve seen negative comments about airlines before, but NOTHING like this (outside of maybe Comcast in the past).
Now I was curious.
After a little digging around, and a bit of reading, it became pretty clear what was/is going on:
Spirit doesn’t necessarily care about building and maintaining a positive brand reputation.
What they DO care about is staying true to who they are (the bare-bones airline operation offering the lowest fares around) and making money.
And, make not mistake about it, business at Spirit is good.
Profits are up.
Flight numbers are up.
And, they’re hiring 1,500 people in the next few months.
I’d say they’re doing alright. Pretty much any company in the history of business would take those results.
And yet they seem to have a HORRIBLE brand reputation.
You want to know how far Spirit is willing to take this? They orchestrated an “Unleash the Hate” survey where they actually asked customers and potential customers what they HATE about airlines (not just Spirit). In exchange, they offered up 8,000 miles.
You can imagine what they heard. Side note: Have you EVER heard of a company doing anything like this? Pretty amazing, if you really think about it.
So, let’s recap, shall we?
Spirit clearly has a horribly poor brand reputation in the marketplace (see my Facebook thread up top).
Spirit has multiple Facebook pages dedicated to disparaging the brand (see below).
Spirit is actively asking customers why they hate airlines like Spirit.
Spirit is almost mocking customers on Twitter with its auto-pilot approach and seemingly sending most to a plain, simple contact form for more information.
Yet, Spirit continues to enjoy profits, growth and a healthy stock price.
This begs the question: Does brand reputation even *matter* to Spirit Airlines?
The answer: Of course it does–just not the way you’re probably thinking.
For Spirit a *positive* brand reputation doesn’t matter. If it did, they would be doing more proactively to try to manage that. They would have a Facebook page. They would be more proactive on Twitter (they basically just direct people to their customer service page on their site now–not exactly a best practice in Twitter customer service). They would be more aggressive with media relations.
They’re not doing any of those things (at least as far as I can see). Translation: They’re not interested in a “positive brand reputation”, in the way we think about it.
What they ARE interested in is this: Helping customers and potential customer better understand who Spirit is and what they offer (and WHY).
This is clearly the Spirit PR strategy.
Let’s look at what they’re doing:
* CBS This Morning story featuring the Spirit CEO focuses heavily on educating people around Spirit.
* The Spirit web site is full of information that helps explain WHY they offer low fares and what customers can expect once they’re on the plane.
* They don’t waste time promoting cheap fares on Twitter and Facebook (again, they don’t even have a FB page) since people are having little trouble finding them all on their own.
The reputation play for Spirit is increasing understanding around their model.
And, if you go back and look at my initial Facebook post last week, it appears to be working!
Look at these comments:
The comments are negative in sentiment, sure, but look a bit more closely. People understand. They get there’s a trade-off. I think that’s a Spirit win. They don’t care if you label them as “The Walmart of the Skies.” All they care about is you understand WHY, and that you buy a ticket.
So, allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment: Maybe positive brand reputation isn’t everything, contrary to what most PR counselors (like me) might tell you.
Now, THAT is interesting to consider.
Look no further than Spirit Airlines.